Sean Knapp missed the cut at last weekend’s U.S. Senior Open at Notre Dame’s Warren Gold Course in South Bend, Ind.
While the ending to his second straight appearance in the tournament and fourth overall wasn’t what he hoped for, the opportunity again to share the course with the world’s best was something he said he will never forget.
“Overall, it was a great experience,” said Knapp, a Plum native and Oakmont resident. “I’ve been fortunate to play with some amazing players. Last year, it was Bernhard Langer and Kenny Perry. You’re there, you look up, and Tom Watson walks by, and there goes Colin Montgomerie. Tom Lehman sits down next to you at lunch, and Curtis Strange comes over during a practice round. If you were doing it every week, you would get more normalized to it, but it’s always a special feeling to play in the same tournament with these guys.”
Knapp, 56, was tied for low-amateur status with a 71 after the first round, nine shots off the pace.
“I’ve been playing well all year, and (the first round) was a continuation of that,” Knapp said. “At the same time, that’s a fast crowd. If you give them the right conditions, they’re always going to take it low.”
A double bogey on the second hole — No. 11 as he started on the back nine — of his second round Friday was the start Knapp was hoping to avoid. He carded a 78 and was not able to stick around for the weekend.
“The fairways were wider than the other Opens I’ve played in, and the greens weren’t particularly firm because of rain, so they were able to go at it,” Knapp said. “You knew the scores were going to go lower in the second round. I got a little bit of a bad break. The ball (on No. 11) was just a few yards off the fairway, and we lost (the ball). That was frustrating.”
One of Knapp’s playing partners for his two rounds was Clark Dennis, a sixth-place finisher at the 1994 U.S. Open at Oakmont.
“Who knows if this will be my last (U.S. Senior Open), but I would love to do it a few more times,” he said.
Knapp said bursitis in his left elbow arose during play in South Bend, and when it came time to give it a go at Oakmont on Monday in defense of his West Penn Amateur title, he was not able to play.
“I was hitting a lot of golf balls last week, and my elbow became pretty tender,” Knapp said. “I woke up Monday morning, and my elbow was about the size of a softball. I couldn’t bend it. I went to the course two hours early and tried to get it loose. I took inflammatory medication, I wrapped it, I tried everything. It was just as no-go.”
Knapp said he will take it easy over the next couple of weeks before gearing up for the U.S. Amateur and the U.S. Senior Amateur a week apart next month.
“It will be a little quiet here in July, and then it will rev back up in August,” Knapp said.
Victory at the 2017 U.S. Senior Amateur earned Knapp exempt status to last year’s U.S. Senior Open at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, and his runner-up finish in his return to the U.S. Senior Amateur last August gave him an automatic berth to South Bend.
He also played in the U.S. Senior Open in 2012 and ‘13 as he fared well in qualifying tournaments in advance of the national championships.
Knapp shared the U.S. Senior Open experience with his daughter Kensey as his caddie.
“It always means a lot to have Kensey there with me on the course,” he said. “She’s been there with me on the bag for a lot of magical moments over the past several years. … It’s these times we will remember for a lifetime.”
Kensey, 25, a recent graduate of Penn State-New Kensington, was diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma in late January, and through the winter and spring of finishing up school and applying for jobs, she tackled the cancer with rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. A recent visit to her doctor yielded positive results.
Through all the ups and downs of the last several months, Kensey said she promised herself she was going to be there in South Bend to support her father’s Open efforts.
“The USGA does a phenomenal job with their events,” she said. “The play is amazing, and the crowds are awesome. It makes for a great experience.”
Kensey said she hopes to caddie for her dad next month at the two national tournaments, but it will depend on whether she can get the additional time off from her new job at DHL in Harrisburg.
“I certainly am going to try,” she said.